A recent study conducted on samples gathered from a 17th-century mummy led scientists to believe that smallpox is not an ancient disease. Instead, it may have its roots in more recent times. Smallpox is a deadly disease, declared extinct in 1980, caused by the variola virus.
The deadly pathogen is responsible for a smallpox epidemy which claimed millions of lives in the past. The scientific community previously thought that the disease first infected human subject thousands of years ago. Several historical accounts even suggest that the plague which has been thought to be responsible for millions of death across ancient Egypt, China, and India even took Ramses V’s life in 1145 B.C.
However, samples gathered from a 17th-century mummy of a young Lithuanian boy begs to differ. The World Health Organization in Geneva granted the scientists access to the mummy. In turn, a team of researchers took several DNA samples from the mummified remains. Upon closely examining the samples, the researchers were able to determine that smallpox may be only a couple hundred years old. The child most likely died during a smallpox outbreak sometime between 1643 and 1665.
The scientists compared the samples gathered from the mummy with modern strains collected from the latest recorded cases of the deadly disease. The last person to die from smallpox succumbed to the deadly virus in Somalia, 1977.
The new findings suggest that the evolution of the variola virus took place closer to modern times. This debunks all previous theories stating that smallpox is an ancient disease. Moreover, the ancestor of every available smallpox viral strain is no older than 1580, according to the researchers.
“Our data clearly show that the VARV lineages eradicated during the 20th century had only been in existence for approximately 200 years”, reads the study.
Nevertheless, at this point, it is still unclear when exactly did the first case of smallpox infestation occur. Also, the source of the deadly virus has still not been identified. The World Health Organization has allowed two laboratories to store smallpox samples. One facility is located in Atlanta, in the United States. The other facility who keeps a smallpox sample under surveillance is located in Russia. Also, both facilities inspect the repositories regularly, in order to ensure that the samples are properly secured and safe.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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